As we enter the heart of the vacation season, wise travelers should constantly remind themselves that there is another kind of sightseer lurking nearby. The sight they are seeking is anyone who is so dazzled and distracted by local attractions that they forget to watch their wallets.
This week your Better Business Bureau continues our exploration of the many tactics that crooks of all age, size and description are putting to use to get your vacation dollars. Sadly, many of these scammers and thieves are young children. Tourists travelling abroad are specifically warned of these schemes, some of which are also employed by stateside scammers. Here’s a rundown of some current favorite scam tactics.
Often the aim is to pinpoint the location of your wallet. A varied number of little street dramas are designed just to get you to automatically feel for your billfold while someone watches. Later, armed with the knowledge of precisely which pocket contains it, a seasoned pickpocket relieves you of it.
Among favorite schemes to get you to reveal its whereabouts:
• Beggars. An elderly or a pregnant woman on the street will try to guilt you into giving them a bit of cash. A nearby pickpocket is carefully watching to learn where you keep your wallet as you get it out.
• “Helpful” locals. Someone on the street will warn you that they just saw someone get their phone or wallet stolen. As you automatically check for your own, they or a nearby accomplice, are noting where yours is for a later pickpocketing. Some have been known to post warning signs in an area about pickpockets just to spot where tourists are patting their pockets to see if a wallet is safe.
Children on the streets in many countries have scamming skills far beyond their years. These are some of tourist games they play:
• Postcard help. An impoverished appearing child may shove a postcard and pen at you while pleading for help writing a letter home. A sad story of his plight will be shared, designed for your sympathy. Then comes an impassioned plea for your money.
• Petition pleas. A group of children will ask that you sign a charity petition and that you give a donation. They may be picking your pocket even as you read the document, their hands hidden under clipboards.
• They’ve got you surrounded. A large group of Gypsy children will clamor around you, wanting you to hand over cash or valuables. Sometimes newspapers are offered for sale, unfolded before your face and distracting you as your pockets are searched.
Scammers can be working on you while you are enroute to your hotel and can even lurk at the establishment once you are there. Here are some ways they operate:
• The “wonderful alternative.” A taxi driver, who is in on the scheme, will say that your hotel is closed for renovation. He just happens to know of another great one. It will be in a bad location and greatly overpriced. There have even been reports of drivers delivering tourists to hotels that have copied the name of the one you seek, claiming it is the right one and that the online photos were wrong.
• Fake employees. Two people dressed as hotel employees will knock on your door for a “room inspection.” One distracts you while the other steals your stuff.
• Fake front desk calls. Identity thieves may call your room saying there is a problem with your credit card and asking you to confirm the card details, sometimes in the middle of the night to befuddle and be sure you won’t go downstairs to check it out.
Many travelers experience none of these scams. That some do is reason enough to prepare for the possibilities. If you have questions or concerns contact your Better Business Bureau at (800) 856-2417, or visit our website at bbbinc.org.